Besides armour, Chaudhuri had a field force of some 15 divisions by the end of 1963. Eight of there were organized as mountain divisions, two were deployed in Jammu and Kashmir along the ceasefire line in a static holding role, one was engaged in a counterinsurgency role and another earmarked for action against East Pakistan, thus leaving about three to defend Punjab. Rajasthan had two brigade groups looking after two separate sectors independently. These forces were grossly inadequate to achieve any decision against Pakistan, which had a definite advantage in overall strength of one to two infantry divisions in the West.
- Asian Recorder, Vol VIII, No 50, “Assurance to Pakistan,” p. 4932.
- Asian Recorder, Vol IX, No 19, “Army Reorganisation,” p. 5189.
- Asian Recorder, Vol IX, No 20, “Total US Military Assistance to Pakistan,” p. 5310.
- Asian Recorder, Vol IX, No 42, “Possibility of Defence Pact with China–Mr Z.A. Bhutto’s View,” p. 5465.
Nehru died in May 1964, leaving the Indian political scene to successors who were virtual non-entities in terms of national and international prestige. Rendered cautious by accusations of interference in defence affairs, they preferred to be guided by the military experts. It was accepted that the defence build-up would not be held up for want of finances even if this meant giving the national five-year development plan a temporary holiday. Shastri, who succeeded Nehru, gave full rein to Chaudhuri, then Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Army Staff, to work out defence growth as the experts thought fit. Chaudhuri faced the problem of preparing to meet a joint threat from Pakistan and China. This meant fighting a war on three fronts, against West and East Pakistan and against China in the Himalayas.
The strategic movement of formations to reinforce a threatened sector or to create offensive strength at a chosen point could not be effected as the mountain formations were not equipped to fight in the plains without additional weapons and transport, which were badly lacking. Some other priorities became more demanding, to the extent that even India’s war reserves could not be maintained with the limited funds available. In fact, Chaudhuri had to dip into the reserve pool to raise new units and formations at the pace required to achieve a military balance in relation to Pakistan. Lack of equipment and the commitments in the mountains made the Indian Army unnecessarily infantry heavy without any intended design. This was an unbalanced growth, but Chaudhuri was so hemmed in by constraints that he was helpless.
Chaudhuri faced the problem of preparing to meet a joint threat from Pakistan and China. This meant fighting a war on three fronts, against West and East Pakistan and against China in the Himalayas.
Conditions were even less favourable in the plains. Armour, the combat arm of decision in mobile plain warfare, was sadly neglected both in quantity and quality. At the time of the Chinese attack, India had 15 firstline armoured regiments. Of these four, forming part of the Armoured Division, were equipped with British Centurions procured to match the American Pattons with Pakistan. Three regiments of Second World War vintage Shermans with 75-mm guns belonged to the Independent Armoured Brigade. The remaining four regiments were allocated to the infantry divisions required to operate in the western plains, and these had a mixture of French AMX-13s and Shermans, one of the Shermans being armed with 76-mm guns.
Two regiments equipped with light Stuart tanks were functioning as corps troops in the east, and for all intents and purposes were not available for fighting Pakistan. Thus, out of 13 regiments which could be brought into play against Pakistan, nine were outgunned and of doubtful mechanical reliability because of old age and heavy usage. The neglect of this prime arm could be attributed to the senior officers of the Armoured Corps, who had controlled Army decision-making in various responsible positions since independence, culminating in Chaudhuri becoming Chief, and had yet failed to improve its potential.
The main weakness lay in lack of equipment and obsolescence of holdings. Although the tank regiments of the Armoured Division had been equipped with Centurions, the infantry was carried in soft-skinned vehicles supported by self-propelled 25-pounder guns on Sexton chassis which could not match tank speed and cross-country performance, thus restricting tank mobility in combat. There were critical shortages of tank transporters, armoured recovery vehicles and essential assault engineering equipment required to negotiate minefields and antitank obstacles. Shortages apart, a common doctrine regarding the employment of armour was lacking. The Armoured Corps was divided into two camps, one belonging to armoured formations—the Armoured Division and the Independent Armoured Brigade and the other to Divisional Regiments Armoured Corps.
Because of equipment holdings, interchangeability of units was very limited. As a result, the tradition-bound regiments developed their narrow loyalties and their own method of working, mostly based on the whims and fancies of the personalities in command. Since the Armoured Corps as a whole had not been tried in battle because of its limited participation in the Jammu and Kashmir operations, its war potential was a doubtful commodity, more so as the exaggerated swank in the life style of its officer cadre alienated the simple infantrymen who had to spend years on mountain tops in the most primitive conditions.
The main weakness lay in lack of equipment and obsolescence of holdings.
The search for a tank to replace the existing Sherman fleet had been engaging the attention of our military planners for quite some time, but the Army hierarchy could not agree on a common choice and then convince the politician. Chaudhuri, the self-styled Indian Guderian, initially opted for a light, speedy tank with superior cross-country performance and a powerful gun. Of low bridge classification, it could use roads in an underdeveloped country. But as Pakistan started acquiring Pattons he veered towards medium tanks of the Chieftain and German Leopard type.
In his tenure as Chief, the priority of raising a large number of mountain and infantry formations prevented him from replacing the aging tank fleet to a significant degree or to procure armoured personnel carriers to enhance the mobility of the accompanying infantry, or better self-propelled guns besides other requirements. The Armoured Corps was relegated to second place in his time. Budding Rommels from this corps moved out to command infantry formations. The policymaker was wedded to indigenous production rather than depending on purchases abroad, partly because of the political strings attached to such arms supplies and partly because foreign exchange to enter the open arms market was lacking. Unlike Pakistan’s foreign policy India’s remained non-aligned, with the attendant advantage of freedom of action but lacking finances to exercise that freedom in its defence preparations.